Some Boeing 737 MAX orders in jeopardy, US pilots try software fix

Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft from American carriers Southwest, foreground, and United Airlines are grounded at William P. Hobby Airport in Houston, Texas. (Reuters)
Updated 23 March 2019
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Some Boeing 737 MAX orders in jeopardy, US pilots try software fix

  • The Senate hearing would be the first time that a US congressional committee has called Boeing executives to appear for questioning about 737 MAX passenger plane crashes
  • Boeing has promised a swift update of software, but regulators in Europe and Canada are shifting away from previous reliance on FAA vetting

JAKARTA/CHICAGO: Indonesian airline Garuda plans to cancel a $6 billion order for Boeing 737 MAX jets because some passengers say they would be frightened to board the plane after two fatal crashes, although industry analysts said the deal was already in doubt.
Still, Garuda is the first airline to publicly announce plans to scrap a 737 MAX order since the world’s entire fleet of one of Boeing’s signature aircraft was grounded last week.
In the United States, American Airlines pilots prepared to test Boeing Co’s planned software upgrade for an anti-stall system on MAX simulators this weekend, saying they want their own safety guarantees on the fix.
The 737 MAX was Boeing’s fastest selling jet before an Ethiopian Airlines crash near Addis Ababa on March 10, five months after a Lion Air jet plunged into the sea in Indonesia.
Ethiopia and French investigators have pointed to “clear similarities” between the two crashes, which killed 346 people, putting pressure on Boeing and US regulators to come up with an adequate fix.
However, questions have emerged about how much is known about the cause of the Ethiopian crash, 11 days after black box data and voice recorders were found.
Ethiopia has shared limited information with foreign investigators, Reuters reported on Thursday, and an industry source said Boeing had not yet received any data.
None of the parties agreed to comment.
Ethiopia said on Thursday it had started reviewing data with US and French safety investigation authorities.
Garuda CEO Ari Askhara told Reuters on Friday: “Many passengers told us they were afraid to get on a MAX 8.”
However, the airline had been reconsidering its order for 49 of the narrowbody jets before the Ethiopian crash, including potentially swapping some for widebody Boeing models.
Southeast Asia faces a glut of narrowbody aircraft like the 737 MAX and rival Airbus A320neo at a time of slowing global economic growth and high fuel costs.
“They have been re-looking at their fleet plan anyway so this is an opportunity to make some changes that otherwise may be difficult to do,” CAPA Center for Aviation Chief Analyst Brendan Sobie said.
Indonesia’s Lion Air has also said it might cancel 737 MAX aircraft, though industry sources say it is also struggling to absorb the number of planes on order.
RETROFITS
No direct link has been proven between the crashes, which killed a total of 346 people, but attention has focused on whether pilots had the correct information about the “angle of attack” at which the wing slices through the air.
Boeing now plans to make compulsory a light to alert pilots when sensor readings of the angle of attack do not match — meaning at least one must be wrong -, according to two officials briefed on the matter.
Investigators suspect a faulty angle-of-attack reading led the doomed Lion Air jet’s computer to believe it had stalled, prompting its anti-stall system, called MCAS, repeatedly to push the plane’s nose down.
Norwegian Air played down the significance of the compulsory light, saying that, according to Boeing, it would not have been able to prevent erroneous signals that Lion Air pilots received before their new 737 MAX plane crashed in October.
Boeing must be cautious with how it characterizes the safety alert, risking legal claims by saying it could have made a difference in the crash while not wanting to suggest that the retrofit is meaningless, legal experts said.
The Lion Air plane did not have the warning light installed, and Ethiopian Airlines did not immediately comment on whether its crashed plane had the alert.
But the Ethiopian carrier, whose reputation along with Boeing’s is at stake, issued a statement on Friday emphasising the modernity of its safety and training systems, with more than $500 million invested in infrastructure in the past five years.
The Ethiopian crash has set off one of the widest inquiries in aviation history and cast a shadow over the Boeing 737 MAX model intended to be a standard for decades.
Boeing did not comment on the plan to make the safety feature standard, but separately said it was moving quickly to make software changes and expected the upgrade to be approved by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in coming weeks.
Chicago-based Boeing will also retrofit older planes with the cockpit warning light, the officials told Reuters.
Experts said the change needs regulatory approval and could take weeks or months. Regulators in Europe and Canada have said they will conduct their own reviews of any new systems.
Since the Ethiopian crash, Boeing shares have fallen 14 percent.
Pressure has mounted on the company from US legislators, who are also expected to question the FAA. The company faces a criminal investigation by the US Justice Department as well.
Several lawsuits have already been filed on behalf of victims of the Lion Air crash referring to the Ethiopian accident. Boeing declined to comment on the lawsuits.


Google puts up $1B to ease housing headaches it helped cause

In this May 1, 2019, file photo, a woman walks past a Google sign in San Francisco. Google is making a $1 billion commitment to address the soaring price of housing in the San Francisco Bay Area, a problem that the internet company and its Silicon Valley peers helped create as the technology industry hired tens of thousands of high-paid workers. (AP)
Updated 19 June 2019
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Google puts up $1B to ease housing headaches it helped cause

  • A report by Working Partnerships called upon Google to build more than 17,000 homes in the area to help offset the anticipated price increases caused by the new campus

SAN FRANCISCO: Google is pouring $1 billion into easing the high-priced housing headaches that it and its Silicon Valley peers helped give the San Francisco Bay Area.
The pledge announced Tuesday by Google CEO Sundar Pichai consists of a $250 million investment fund and $750 million of company-owned land. It will be used to build at least 15,000 homes that will include low- and mid-income housing.
Google’s commitment eclipsed a recent $500 million pledge made by Microsoft to combat housing shortages in the Seattle area and a $500 million housing fund created by a consortium including Facebook.
Google is extending a helping hand as it draws up plans to expand into sprawling offices beyond its headquarters in Mountain View, California. That suburban city of roughly 80,000 people has been swamped with affluent tech workers since Google moved there shortly after its 1998 inception.
Since then, Google’s payroll has swelled from a few dozen workers to the more than 103,000 people now working for it and its corporate parent, Alphabet Inc. Nearly half of those workers are based in the Bay Area.
While Google has been expanding, so have a wide variety of other technology companies, including Apple, Facebook, Oracle, Salesforce and Netflix — all of whom also lavish their workers with six-figure salaries and stock options that can yield multimillion-dollar windfalls.
The high incomes have resulted in bidding wars for the limited supply of homes in the Bay Area that can only be afforded by the affluent, a group increasingly dominated by tech workers, while people employed in other lines of work struggle to make ends meet on more modest incomes.
That is making it impossible for people on the lower end of the economic spectrum to buy a home in the Bay Area, where a mid-priced house sold for $990,000 in April, according to the California Association of Realtors, a trade group. In 1999, a mid-priced home sold for $308,000.
It’s even worse in San Francisco, a city from which many tech workers ride company buses to the Silicon Valley suburbs. A mid-priced house in San Francisco sold for nearly $1.7 million in April, according to the realtors’ group, quadruple the price of 20 years ago.
Google’s next big project will be in the Bay Area’s most populous city, San Jose, where it plans to build a corporate campus consisting of offices and housing where 15,000 to 20,000 of its employees will work and live.
The project faced resistance from community activists worried about its effect on housing prices. Last week, a report by Working Partnerships called upon Google to build more than 17,000 homes in the area to help offset the anticipated price increases caused by the new campus. The report by the labor-union backed labor group envisions apartment rent increases of $235 million by 2030 if action isn’t taken.
“For several months, we have encouraged Google to make a bold commitment to address our region’s affordable housing challenge,” San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said in a statement applauding the company’s $1 billion pledge.